CHURCH PRINCIPLES (4)
by John Heading
CONFIDENCE IN GOD
by H. H. Shackcloth
CHRIST IN HEBREWS
by J. B. Hewitt
by H. C. Spence
EPISTLE TO THE COLOSSIANS
by Dr. J. Boyd
by John Cowan
by J. HEADING
THE CHURCH AND ITS STANDARDS
2 Corinthians 6.
God has standards to maintain in local churches. These are much more demanding than standards in institutions on earth (such as homes, schools, clubs, hospitals). These standards are maintained by the outworking of “holiness” (in Greek, the root of this word is the same as that of “saint,” “sanctification”). This means to be set apart to do God’s will and not man’s. In other words, “He brought us out to bring us in,” Deut. 6:22. The Lord commands us to maintain holiness; “Be ye holy, for I am holy”, Lev. 11:44; 1Pet. 1:16; this was by law in the Old Testament, but under grace in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, all commands had to be kept in order to be blessed, but in the New Testament we are already blessed so we seek to do His will. In the Old Testament the law brought bondage, but in the New Testament liberty should bring holiness.
We should contrast the bondage of corruption, and the glorious liberty of the children of God, Rom. 8:21. Indeed, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty, 2 Cor. 3:17. But this liberty is not licence to abandon our calling to holy standards. Liberty is the “yoke and burden” of Christ, Matt. 11:30, as distinct from the labour and burden of the law. Liberty is not the pretext to go and do as we please; we have no right to call “legal” and “in bondage” those who place themselves under the yoke and burden of Christ as bondservants.
The standards of liberty. Paul recognized danger; he wrote that we should be steadfast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and that we should not be entangled again with the yoke of bondage, Gal. 5:1. Again, we are called to liberty, so we must not use it for any occasion to the flesh, v. 13. Peter wrote similar words; we are free, but must not use liberty for a cloak of maliciousness; as servants of the Lord we must use our liberty, 1 Pet. 2:16.
These holy standards in a local church are sometimes attacked, but we should beware of any who seek to undermine church standards; even Solomon wrote, “Who causeth the righteous to go astray in an evil way, he shall himself fall into his own pit,” Prov. 8:10. Yet there is singular blessing for those who overcome, as Revelation 2-3 witness. In the Old Testament, the priests, the sons of Zadok “who kept the charge of my sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from me” were promised to be able to come near God to minister, to offer fat and blood, to enter into the sanctuary, and to have a portion of the land in its redistribution, Ezek. 44:15; 48:11. We may therefore examine the standards (and dangers) of individual members of a local church, and of the collective company, and of those possessing gift and charge.
Standards of individual members in relation to the assembly.
(1) Character. In 2 Corinthians 3-6, Paul deals with the character of all who serve, of those who have liberty in the Spirit, 3:17. In chapter 3, everything excels under grace. Our sufficiency is of God, v. 5; we are made able ministers, v. 6; the ministry of righteousness exceeds in glory, and we have boldness of speech, v. 12; with open face we behold the glory of the Lord, v. 18. Chapter 4 deals with the true humility of the vessel in service; His servants are earthen vessels, v. 7; they bear in their bodies the dying of the Lord Jesus, v. 10; death works in them, v. 12; the outward man perishes, v. 16. Such unlikely vessels the Lord can use! Chapter 5 shows the appreciation of the fullness of blessing by a servant of the Lord. Ultimately they will be clothed upon in resurrection, v. 4; they will receive the things done in the body, v. 10; they are a new creation in Christ Jesus, v. 17. Chapter 6:4-10 then lists 28 features of an approved servant of Christ: there are 10 external features, 11 internal and 7 contrasts (strictly a description of Paul). Then in verses 11-13, Paul wanted the Corinthians to be thus enlarged, BUT NOT to be so enlarged beyond the bounds of sanctity, 6:14 to 7:1. Standards are maintained as character is enlarged; there was to be no “unequal yoke,” namely, a common purpose of life with an unbeliever. Thus the law forbad joint ploughing with an ox and an ass, Deut. 22:10. The principles, motives, interests and ways of believer and unbeliever are directly opposed; there can be no common ground. How this should be contrasted with Philemon whom Paul called a “true yoke-fellow.” Paul concludes by stating that there is to be no filthiness of the flesh, but rather the perfecting of holiness, 7:1. The moral, social and religious aspects of daily life bring their character into the local church; as an example, friendship with the world is enmity against God, James 4:4. Thus the believer should not be conformed to the world, but he should be transformed, Rom. 12:2. The Lord is described as “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners,” Heb. 7:26. If we are not so separate, then we are defiling the temple of God.
(2) The individual as a priest. Consider Aaron; in Exodus 28 and 29, he was called a high priest and his service described. Yet at the same time he was engaged in the exact opposite. He led the people astray, and failed to keep God’s standards. Moses said, “What did the people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them?” 32:21. What Aaron did not do, we should do—stand against popular religious clamour. This means a minority against the majority if the truth demands it; the Lord spoke of His own as a “little flock,” the few against the many.
(3) The individual in government. David recognized that Zion was the place where God would dwell for ever, Psa. 68:16. He thus took the ark to Zion, 1 Chron. 15-16, leaving the old tabernacle at Gibeon empty and forsaken by God, Psa. 78:60. Yet later, Solomon came to Gibeon and all the congregation with him, 2 Chron. 1:3, a movement in reverse. Later still, he “brought the ark out of Zion,” 1 Kings 8:1, another movement in reverse. In both cases, this was the exact opposite of what David had done. He failed to recognize God’s will for the position of Christ as exalted (the ark on Zion). No wonder Solomon failed afterwards in many ways, in loving Pharaoh’s daughter and introducing idols on the mount of Olives. God’s standard is a heavenly outlook (mount Zion), but Solomon was bound by the earth. Our affections must be on things above and not on things on the earth, Col. 3:1.
(4) Mutual relations in the local church. In Gal. 5:13, we must serve one another by love, but how this can easily be overlooked. In Romans 14 and 1 Cor. 8, we find a brother pursuing his pathway thinking it right regardless of its effect on a brother who is doubtful. The stronger brother has knowledge, and even faith before God in the matter, but not love. The weaker brother is stumbled. The stronger brother sins against Christ, 1 Cor. 8:12, and so does the weaker brother, Rom. 14:23. Hence if forms of activity and service are pushed to the detriment of the conscience of others, this is not in keeping with the holy standards of love.
(5). The individual in watchfullness. We may quote the Old Testament example of the porters. They had been established by David to safeguard the temple, and reintroduced by Jehoidah: he “set porters at the gates of the house of the Lord, that none which was unclean in anything should enter in,” 2 Chron. 23:19. In other words, all have to take heed to self, to our service, conduct, motives, lest any should depart from the holy standards of the church.
Standards of the collective local church. To the Philip-pians, Paul wrote, “Stand fast in the Lord; be of the same mind in the Lord” Phil. 4:1-2. Here we see the standard of the whole is equivalent to unity in the things of the Lord. A sheet of ice may be homogeneous and safe if not cracked, but a few cracks will rapidly bring more. Similarly, the lowering of the standards of one or of a small group in a local church may rapidly affect the whole. In Philippi Paul sensed that this was so. In Corinth, there were groups claiming to be of Paul, or Apollos, 1 Cor. 1:10. They were elevating some and debasing others; they would not recognize that God was sovereign in choosing, equipping, providing messages and in giving the results. Hence standards dropped to very low levels morally, doctrinally and spiritually, because they ceased to believe in the unity of mind in the things of the Lord.
Collective weakness is also shown by lack of loyalty to the company. Thus there were those who forsook the assembling of themselves together, Heb. 10:25. If church principles mean anything to us, we cannot content ourselves to dissipate service and fellowship in circles which follow ideals of men and tradition but not of God. Attending on the Lord’s Day only is not to maintain God’s required standards, since it might appear that attendance is more according to convenience rather than under due exercise. Recall in 1 Cor. 11:17-34 and ch. 12, that when the Corinthians came together standards dropped from what Paul had “received of the Lord” and from “the commandments of the Lord.”
Standards of charge and gifts.
(1). Elders. Acts 20:30. This warning was spoken to the elders themselves, because of the words “your own selves.” This warning against the rise of false elders was a most solemn prophetic warning to a spiritual church, namely Ephesus. The standard of eldership is most exacting—a call, a desire, a recognition, not to be taken up lightly. Thus they have to provide for the saints and not for self. By reason of their charge, their standards in a local church affects that church for good or bad. Hence think twice before introducing some new doctrine, some new policy; such things may introduce a split in a local church, and elders have often initiated this. But all this can be prevented by “the word of His grace.” Acts 20:32. Thus a brother with little knowledge or time for the Word should never be an elder.
(2) Teachers. A high standard is needed for a high calling, the object being the edification of the body of Christ Eph. 4:12. But standards of a low and even negative kind flourish everywhere. We must beware of every wind of doctrine, and the cunning whereby they lie in wait to deceive, v. 14. We must beware of false prophets in sheep’s clothing, Matt. 7:15, and of false teachers that shall exist in the last days, 2 Pet. 2:1. But Paul would not have standards so marred; the local church had to act.
As an example, we may quote difficulties in the teaching of the subject of the resurrection. Some had mental difficulties about this (not overcome by faith), which even amounted to the unwitting denial of the resurrection of Christ, 1 Cor. 15. Paul corrected this within the local church. Others had taught that the resurrection was past—a kind of spiritual resurrection only at conversion; their word was like a canker, and the faith of some was overthrown, 2 Tim. 2:17-18. The weakness of the Corinthians had now grown into an organized body of false doctrine, and the men concerned had to be delivered unto Satan, shut out of the company; this was correction outside the church.
(3) Evangelists. High standards are necessary, since the world sees public service at this point, and since the gospel is making known the mind of God to men, that is unknowable save by the Spirit. They must therefore communicate spiritual things by spiritual means, 1 Cor. 2:13 (as the proper rendering is). The Lord knew no other standard in preaching the gospel, nor did the apostles.
In Gal. 1:6-7 Paul had to maintain the true gospel. Men were preaching another gospel (of a different kind), which is not another (of the same kind); two different Greek words are involved here. Such purveyors of strange gospels are called “false brethren” from without, Gal. 2:2, and even Peter (within) returned at least temporarily to Jewish traditions that were contrary to true unity, with the result that the Jews and Barnabas were carried away by such a false example. Consequently we must maintain our own standards in holiness, taking heed to all other influences, else we may stumble others rather than edify them.
- The Church—a Symposium of Principles and Practice, J. B. Watson.
- The Lord and the Churches, J. M. Davies.
- The Christian Assembly, J. R. Littleproud.
- New Testament Church Principles, A. G. Clarke.
- The Sin of Sectarianism, Andrew Stenhouse.
- Bishops, Priests and Deacons, by William Hoste.
- Lectures on the Church of God, by William Kelly.
- The House of God, and Behaviour within it, O. B. Wyllie.
- The House of God, C. A. Coates.
- The Church of God, Its Truths and Principles, F. Ferguson.
- The Church and the Churches, W. E. Vine.
- Separation, True and False, J. M. Davies.
- Christ and His Church, W. J. Hocking.
- Church Doctrine and Practice, ed. J. Heading & C. Hocking.
- The Christian Ecclesia, F. J. A. Hort.
- Acts, a Study in New Testament Christianity, J. Heading.
- An Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles, William Kelly.
- I Will Build my Church, James Gunn.
- Christ Loved the Church, William MacDonald.
by H. H. SHACKCLOTH
A STUDY OF PSALM 46 (PART 1)
‘Confidence which the Church has in God’ says the translators precis heading to Psalm 46. Ignoring for the moment the prophetic message of this Psalm, we would agree that apart from Christian believers it is difficult to find confidence elsewhere.
Confidence is the word which is being used constantly today by politicians, industrialists, financiers and the like. It seems to be a commodity in short supply. Its lack coincides with the development of world conditions which are the cause of ‘men’s hearts failing them for fear,’ as our Lord predicted, when they view with apprehension the prevailing chaos. Confidence in man is an illusion. Confidence in God, the imperative need of the hour!
In days of rapid change in some respects similar to our own the Hebrew Christians were reminded that whilst they lived in a period of transition they had nevertheless inherited ‘a kingdom that cannot be shaken’ (Heb. 12:28). Fittingly they were exhorted to “hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end” (Heb. 3:6, 14).
History’s repetition causes these ancient truths to come alive today for our comfort. The Psalmist with no preamble introduces us to the source of our confidence, “GOD is our refuge and strength” he says. From this simple statement we may deduce, firstly, that He is :
A PRESENT GOD
and as verses 7 and 11 add He is ‘with us.’ What confidence have we of this? We are living in days of God’s silence. ‘Grace is reigning through righteousness. He is not responding to man’s sinfullness with summary judgment, and such convulsions of nature as ‘wind, earthquake and fire’ are not necessarily the signs of His righteous wrath against sin, otherwise His intervention would be selective.
Rather, He gives us a different token of His presence. We are assured that the Holy Spirit is indwelling us as individual believers, and among us as a collective body, assuming of course that He is not grieved by our spiritual state.
Secondly, this opening verse tells us that He is :
A PROTECTING GOD
‘He is our refuge.’ We need such a loving God when, as George Duffield’s hymn rightly says ‘The arm of flesh may fail us, we dare not trust our own.’ This confidence in God says simply, ‘If God be for us who can be against us?’ (Rom. 8:31). Paul goes on to assure us that everything from ‘tribulation’ to ‘slaughter’ may befall us but that in all things we are ‘more than conquerors through Him that loveth us’ (v. 37).
Every seeming misfortune is allowed by His permissive will, and there is always the consolation that His restraining hand can intervene if it is for His glory (Job 2:6).
Lastly, the opening verse of the Psalm tells us that He is :
A PROVIDING GOD
for He is ‘our strength.’ There is nothing more impressive than the fact that those who have been called upon to suffer persecution have like Paul, ‘kept the faith.’ He was one of a small band, who blazed the trail for the ‘noble army of martyrs.’ If we were to ask the saints who have suffered under communism, or those who endured the Boxer rising, or the persecutions at the time of the Reformation, each in their day would have replied that it is not so much that God gives strength, but that, ‘He IS our refuge and strength.’
He is present when the mind might well be tortured by fancied guilt, and when no human companion is alongside to help. The apprehension, at the sound of heavy footfalls approaching as they presage yet another spell of questioning is not an experience relating only to the past, it is occuring somewhere with God’s people every day. His presence vouchsafes the grace we need in times of stress.
The plea of Paul ‘Brethren, pray for us,’ comes down to us from the distant past and there is comfort in the assurance of another Christian’s ministry of prayer, inadequate as it may be. But there is a far better ministry available for us—for as our Lord says ‘I will pray for you that your faith fails not.’ This is our only reliable source of confidence.
Having noted the parallel situation existing between the early days of the Church, and our own times we are not surprised that the Psalmist assumes as a matter of course that we will not fear, but rather experience peace of heart and mind in days of chaos and stress (v. 2, 3, 6).
There is the ‘rage of the heathen’ (v. 6), and the second Psalm fills in the details of their complicities, for ‘the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against His Anointed.’ This is not a report of some impulsive display of mob rioting spurred on by the excitement of the moment.
but rather is it a studied attitude of revolutionary philosophy. The ideas are coldly worked out to the last degree in the minutest detail. Every argument which can rightly be arraigned against it has a specious answer to support it. Only the Divine wisdom is sufficient to combat the errors peculiar to this age. Isaiah under the Spirit’s guidance saw its emergence as he writes, ‘the uproar of many peoples, which roar like the roaring of the seas: and the rushing of nations, that rush like the rushing of mighty waters. The nations shall rush like the rushing of many waters: but He shall rebuke them, and they shall flee far off, and shall be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like the whirling dust before the storm.’ (Isa. 17:12-13).
by J. B. HEWITT, Chesterfield
“The Sacrificial Redeemer” Chapter Nine.
The theme of chapter eight is continued here, contrasting the Sanctuaries, the Ministries and the sacrifices. The importance of the Tabernacle v. 1-5; the inadequacy of the old sacrifices v. 6-10; the incomparable ministry of Christ v. 11-14, the indispensable work of Christ v. 15-22, and the infinite sacrifice of Christ v. 23-28.
The Mediator in a Better Sanctuary. Verses 1-14.
(a) The Sanctuary Described v. 1-5. The arrangement approved v. 1. The old covenant had two things (1) ordinances of divine service (2) an earthly sanctuary. The sacred tent was material, of human construction, secondary and transitory. It expressed the requirement of man, but could not effect the remission necessary. The articles appointed v. 2, 3. The furniture foreshadowed Christ. There was something about the Tabernacle that made special appeal to those who loved the old way of worship. It had now been superseded by Christ’s saving work. He is the great Tabernacle pattern. The structure was a miniature creation, but Christ is the full expression of God 1:3.
These symbols were God given, to teach, to signify and illustrate spiritual truths. The type here is the Day of Atonement Lev. 16, in chapter ten it is the Offerings. The writer shows that Christ is the greater priest, sacrifice and minister, the time of reformation has come v. 10, for Christ has entered the Heavenly Sanctuary once for all by His own blood v. 12. Christ is greater in provision. The tabernacle provided bread to renew, light to reveal, oil to anoint and incense to sweeten. Christ in all His fullness brings us light, life and love.
The Ark—the Person and Presence of Christ, the Rod that budded—the power of the Risen Christ; the Lampstand —Christ the Revealer of the Father, the light of His people.
The Bread of His Presence—refers to Israel also the oneness of believers and their acceptance in Christ, 1Cor. 10:17.
“Wherein” and “having” v. 2, v. 4, refer to use, not to situation. The golden altar and its incense are mentioned as being used on the Day of Atonement. The high priest had to bring incense with him. In spirit and in function it belonged to the Most Holy Place, 1Kings 6:22.
(b) The Service Detailed v. 6-10. Tabernacle spiritually inadequate. The grand ritual, the gorgeous robes and all the ceremonies, could not establish the right of access, or open the way of approach to God. All speak of restriction v. 7—“alone;” limitation—“once yearly;” exclusion—“high priest alone.” No attendants, no assistance. The condition— “not without blood;” imperfection—“not yet made manifest.”
It was a symbolical representation of better things to come. In the N.T. the Holy Spirit explains to us eternal redemption by means of these types. Verse 6 mentions the regular service, but verse 7 the special service of the Day of Atonement. Both these services remind us that the veil remained unrent, the mercy seat unapproachable and redemption unaccomplished.
The animal sacrifices only brought external adjustment, they could never clear the guilty conscience v. 8. They had no moral power. Now all is changed and the good things have come.
(c) The Substance Divine v. 11-14. Here we see the glories and perfections of our Priest and His sacrifice on the altar of Calvary. Westcott mentions four ways, by contrasts, of His perfect work. “(1) His sacrifice was voluntary. An animal dies because it has to die; Jesus chose to die, John 10:18; (2) His sacrifice was spontaneous. Animal sacrifice was the product of law; the sacrifice of Jesus is entirely the product of love. (3) His sacrifice was rational. The animal victim did not know what was happening. Jesus died knowing whence He had come, whither He was going, and what He was doing. (4) His sacrifice was moral. Animal sacrifice is mechanical, the ritual was carried out in the prescribed way.”
We have an Abiding Priest v. 11, who brought an acceptable offering v. 12. His is an accomplished work v. 12, and we an assured people—“purged” v. 14.
It was not necessary for our High Priest to present His blood, but only to present Himself v. 12-14, NOT ‘taking His own blood’ as in the R.S.V. this is an unscriptural idea, to be rejected. But ‘THROUGH,’ that is by means of, or because of, His death as Man, when His blood was shed.
by H. C. SPENCE
The Lord Himself, how precious it is to the soul to meditate on the Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We think of HIMSELF the sacrifice in the Hebrew epistle chapter 10 we are reminded “Once in the end of the ages hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” The infinite value of His death on the Cross and the efficacy of His Precious blood alone avails for our eternal salvation. Thus we can declare with the apostle Paul, “The Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20).
Then we are also reminded of Himself the eternal Lover of the church “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it” (Ephesians 5:27). At such a cost He gave Himself for His bride that she might be His possession, and finally that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, the pearl of priceless worth, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing but holy and without blemish” (Verse 27). Then we shall know the reality of the verses of the hymn:-
- “The bride eyes not her garment, But her dear Bridegroom’s face;
- I will not gaze at glory, but on my King of grace;
- Not at the crown He giveth, but on His pierced Hands,
- Not e’en where glory dwelleth in Emmanuel’s land.”
Again we are reminded of Himself in exaltation as we read in Ephesians 2:20 “Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone” and Peter also declares “The Stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner” (1 Peter 2:7). Therefore “God hath highly exalted Him and given Him a Name which is above every name that, at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow of things in Heaven and things in earth and things under the earth and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).
Let us turn to Luke chapter 24 and reflect upon that memorable walk to Emmaus. We have Himself the occupation when we read that “Jesus Himself drew near and went with them,” (verse 15). These two disciples were utterly disheartened and their hopes of seeing the Lord were remote but the Lord Jesus Himself sought their companionship. The sad-hearted disciples spoke to Him of the “things” which are come to pass? And the Lord said unto them “What things!” (verse 18 and 19). And then He said unto them ‘O fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Ought not Christ to have suffered these “things” and to enter into His glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the “things” concerning Himself (verses 25-27). We so often are occupied with many things but our hearts alone overflow with adoration when we are occupied with Himself. What heart burning was the result of the revelation of the Lord Himself. It is not without significance that the Lord chose to make Himself known to them in the breaking of the bread (verse 30). Is it any wonder that they desired Him (Abide with us). Finally we look forward to the Lord Himself descending from Heaven at His coming at the rapture of the saints. We shall be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air and so shall we ever be with the Lord (1 Thess. 4:16-17). As we journey onward in all the changing scenes of life may our hearts be more and more occupied with the Lord Himself and the language of our hearts may be in the lines of the hymn writer :—
- To Christ the Lord let every tongue
- Its noblest tribute bring;
- Himself the subject of our song;
- What joy it is to sing!
by Dr. JOHN BOYD INTRODUCTION
Colosse was an important, prosperous city athwart the River Lycus, in the Roman Province of Asia. It was about ten miles distant from Hierapolis and Laodicea, two cities further down the same valley. All these places were noted for the purple dyes they produced, as was also Thyatira (Acts 16:14). But at the time of the writing of this epistle Colosse had lost much of its former fame and prosperity.
The Epistle to the Colossians, we are told, was written by Paul (1:1, 23), in association with Timothy. Paul had not been to Colosse, though both he and Timothy would have been well-known throughout the Province of Asia. Paul had resided, and preached in Ephesus, the chief city in Asia, for three years (Acts 20:31). When the apostle was going into Macedonia he had left Timothy behind in Ephesus, to implement his teaching. Thus the churches of the Lycus valley would be familiar with both names. Some commentators even say that Colosse had possibly been evangelised by Timothy, although to Epaphras the foundation of the church is usually attributed.
The Epistle was addressed to ‘the saints and faithful brethren at Colosse’ (1:2), not to the church in that city. Possibly there was more than one church in that place—see Col. 4:15, Philemon 2. Paul may have intended that the epistle be shared by the other two churches in the Lycus valley, namely Heirapolis and Laodicea (4:13). These would likely also be contaminated with the same error as found in Colosse. These churches were composed of a mixture of Jewish, Greek and Pagan believers, with the last possibly exceeding in numbers the other two groups. The Jewish party may have been chiefly from the sect of the Essenes, whose doctrines were akin to the false teaching that Paul was seeking to repudiate in the letter.
Paul probably wrote from the prison in Rome, where he would likely have met Onesimus, the runaway slave from Colosse, who had been converted, and whom Paul was sending back to his master with a letter explaining his position. The Epistle to the Colossians was apparently sent with two others—that to Philemon, and that known as ‘The Epistle to the Ephesians.’ Philemon was a resident in Colosse. The Epistle to the Ephesians, so-called, was probably ‘the Epistle from Laodicea’ (4:16). The words, ‘at Ephesus’ (Eph. 1:1), are omitted by many ancient authorities. So commentators suggest that the epistle was in reality a circular letter to all the churches in Asia, with its destination left blank. Later the words, ‘at Ephesus,’ were added, because it was the capital city, and from its importance, was a likely centre for the distribution of such general instruction.
These three epistles were all written during Paul’s earlier, and freer imprisonment in Rome—about A.D. 61 or 62. There are certain similarities between the Epistle to the Colossians and that to the Ephesians, more especially in the ethical portions (Eph. 5:22; 6:9 and Col. 3:18; 4:1).
Let us examine the theme of this Colossian letter. Epaphras had possibly informed Paul that at Colosse the believers were being upset by false teaching, by what has been described as Judaistic Gnosticism. This was a mixture of Greek philosophy, Oriental mysticism and Jewish ritualistic practices—the outcome of the speculation and theorising of men. It required submission to circumcision, the keeping of Jewish feasts, and abstinence from eating meats offered to idols (2:11, 16). The Oriental touch was evident in asceticism, an intrusion into the realm of fancy, and the worshipping of angels (2:18, 23). To the Hellenic, intellectual devotees, ‘Gnosis,’ that is, knowledge rather than faith, was the all-important factor in life (2:8).
These philosophers regarded God as the source of all things. From Him, they said, emanated some fifteen pairs of abstract powers called ‘Aeons.’ The totality of these Aeons they termed the “Pleroma,” or fullness, of God.
The Gnostics detracted from the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. They affirmed that He was but a man, the son of Joseph and Mary, upon whom the Aeon, Christ, descended at His baptism, and left Him before His passion. This belittled the value of the work of Christ on the Cross. To them He was much inferior to God—without God’s foreknowledge, and indeed inferior to the spirits, or Aeons, which proceeded from God. They regarded the angels as having had a part in the creation and government of the world, and hence as being worthy of worship.
This doctrine was the occupation of the intellectuals, but when taught to the more simple-minded believers in Colosse, it threatened to undermine their faith.
Hearing of these things, Paul felt it incumbent on him, as the apostle, to the Gentiles, to combat such erroneous teaching. This he did by writing to them an epistle, with the all-sufficiency of Christ as his main theme.
Paul thanked God for the faith, hope and love of the Colossian believers, and told them of his constant intercession on their behalf. His prayer for them was that they might be filled with spiritual wisdom and understanding, that they might walk worthily of the Lord, and be so empowered by God as to be constantly thanking Him for His blessings. Not the least of these blessings was their emancipation by God from the tyranny of Satan, and their transference into the Kingdom of His Son.
The mention of the Son of God led the apostle off into a panegyric on the Person and Work of Christ, in all His glory and dignity. The kernel of the matter lies in the words of 1:19, ‘It was the good pleasure of the Father that in Him should all the fullness dwell’ (R.V.). In doing so Paul took the word ‘pleroma,’ that the Gnostics had chanced upon in their search after truth. But for him it was removed from the precarious foundation of philosophy and mythology, and set upon the imperishable rock of inspiration. All the fullness, all the ‘Pleroma,’ all the Aeons dwelt in Christ. This truth is succinctly summed up for us in the words, ‘Christ is all, and in all’ (3:11).
As we commit ourselves to a closer scrutiny of the epistle, let us look out for an application of the truth set forth in it to present-day conditions in the assemblies of God’s people. Whilst we are not dabbling in Judaistic Gnosticism, it may be that similar tendencies to drift from the faith will be found creeping in, for example, holding on to the traditions of pre-conversion days. The desire to pay attention to the high-sounding reasonings of hyper-intellectual theologians, that draw believers away from ‘the simplicity that is in Christ,’ is ever with us. Let us appreciate as we read, Paul’s great desire to bring before us constantly a spiritual understanding of the greatness of Christ, that ‘in all things He may have the pre-eminence’ in our lives.
Let us look then at the analysis of this epistle—
by JOHN COWAN
Amongst the many functions enacted at the Gate, judicial claims, i.e. clearance from guilt seems to have been the most important, Justification being a judicial term, and as all judicial claims have been met by Him, access through Him has been made available for us. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by Faith into this Grace wherein we stand” (Rom. 5:1).
Our approach and access into the court having now been obtained by Him, there have also been facilities given in order that it may be maintained by us. The Gate is the answer to the judicial claims of God. “It was exacted from Him and He became answerable” (Isa. 53:7, R.V.). The Gate answerable to the height of the Court. It might be profitable to look at some of the features of the Gate, as to its length and breadth and as to the colours and the material of which it is composed. Length is used in the scriptures to denote the course of a thing such as the course of life, while breadth has the character and circumstances of the thing in view. The length and breadth of the Gate would correspond to what we find in John 16:28. “I came forth from the Father and came into the World, again I leave the World and go to the Father.” His entrance into time with all the circumstances associated therewith.
Twenty is the length while five is the breadth. Twenty is divine values while five is human weaknesses associated with Divine strength; when I am weak then I am strong, so in the length and breadth of the gate we see in the course of that life in time every standard of Divine values fully met. The Gate was displayed by four pillars and could possibly be that four fold presentation of the Lord Jesus as presented by the four Gospellers in the record which they make. The Blue in John, the Purple in Mark, the Scarlet in Matthew and the Fine Twined Linen in Luke, each displaying their own particular conception of the Lord Jesus in this fourfold way, yet requiring a blending of the four to fully set Him forth; The Blue is Heavenly Splendour, the Purple, the Splendour of Imperial dominion, the Scarlet the Splendour of Earth in a Kingly way, while the Fine Twined Linen, that righteousness of conduct in all its spotless purity, only seen in its perfection in the manhood of the Lord Jesus here on earth, the Beauty of the Blue, the Blend of the Purple, the Brilliance of the Scarlet, with the Basis of the Fine Twined Linen for their display. Having availed ourselves of the avenue of access seen in the Gate, it is our privilege now to enter the Court and enjoy to the full the variegated excellencies of this nearer view.
The Court then is a presentation of a sphere of service, expressing the Fellowship of Communion in a unity of unbroken and unblemished character, as the various materials of its composition describe, containing also the vessels for the maintenance of this communion and for its restoration when it has inadvertently been broken. Communion is the consciousness of nearness and intercourse, while Fellowship is the active expression of it.
This sphere then is an enclosure of three hundred cubits supported by sixty pillars and is expressive of the power of resurrection fullness, having been made available to us, and in which we, having taken it up, will be enabled to stand in testimony for Him as being in the world, yet none of it. The Court then is described for us, as having one hundred cubits of fine twined linen on the South side, supported by twenty pillars and one hundred cubits on the North side supported by their twenty pillars. This then would speak of the fact that, not only have we been brought into a sphere of delightful privilege, but also into a sphere of definite responsibility, and if the unity of things have to be maintained, we must shoulder our responsibilities as well as share our privileges.
Twenty plays an important part in the construction of the court and is a constant reminder that the fullness of sanctuary values is the expectation of God. The good is not enough, he wants the best, and only the best is good enough for him. Surely beloved, when we consider the sphere into which we have been brought and that, not in a typical sense, but in all the Spiritual fullness of all its actual Riches and Glory and Beauty, surely this would encourage us not to laze about basking in the sunshine of the sunny south, whilst others are burdened excessively, endeavouring to maintain in a united way the rigours of the North. The South side is the sunny side, where the wealth of divine blessing is constantly experienced and where it is an easy matter to witness for God. This is the side where effortless enjoyment can be experienced without any thought of responsibility. We must remember, however, that great as our privileges are, our responsibilities are equally great, and while we can enjoy to the full the many blessings that privilege has brought, we must be prepared to take our share of the North side and, with the enablement given to us, to shoulder our responsibilities, and not to shirk them.
This then is the Fellowship into which we have come and in order to maintain it, according to divine expectation, there have been facilities given to us which we are expected to use and not abuse. The Court then is a display by us of the spotlessness of Christ, not Christ personally but characteristically as seen in you and I. The standard is an exacting one, but not an impossible one, and in order to maintain it in the purity of Divine expectation, it calls for constant exercise and constant care.
We have been briefly considering the pillars in their collective capacity. It might be well for us now to take the same brief look at them in their individual setting. There is an eightfold significance associated with each pillar and this would speak of the new position into which we have now come, the responsibilities we are called upon to discharge and the rich privilege which is ours in so doing. First of all there is the pillar itself, shittim wood its composition, reminding us of the great change that has taken place in each of our experiences, at one time in the world, drawing our sustenance from it and satisfied with our position in it but God had an interest in us, and from the bareness of nature’s distance and death, He brings us into the place of nearness and life, “out of the Kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of his Love,” cutting us off from the old life, severing us from the old root and establishing us now upon the new foundation whereby old things pass away and all things become new. This, of course, would speak of the brazen socket, the merit of Christ, from being in the world, now, not of the world we stand upon His Merit alone, from being in Adam where all die we are now in Christ where all shall be made to live, to live now not to ourselves but to Him who died for us and rose again.
Then, there is the Hook, the Connecting Rod, the Chapiter, the Pin, the Cord and in all its excellency and display, the beauty of Christ, not Christ personally, but as displayed in you and I, in the five cubits square of fine twined linen, answerable to the compass of the brazen altar, from whose established basis all testimony Godward and Man-ward comes. In the Pillar, then, we have the shaft of our New Strength, the Socket our New Standing, the Linen our New Service, the Hook our Suitability for Service, the Chapiter the Servants’ Crown, the Connecting Rod our Suited Links with Him and with one another, the Cord our Support and the Pin our Security. Thus furnished, we take our place, endeavouring to maintain the Unity of the Spirit in the uniting bonds of Peace.
Having considered, in this brief and suggestive sense, our approach toward God by way of the Gate and into the Court, our attention would be taken up with the vessels that the Court contains. These vessels speak very eloquently of the Lord Jesus Christ in connection with the basis which He has established in relation to our communion with God. We sometimes speak of the Joy of the Justified; this evidently is the expectation of God from His people, and would be their continual experience so long as they measure up to the standard of the Claims of God. We know that, such is the efficacy of the Blood of Christ, we can never lose our Salvation. We have been saved and that eternally, but, there is the solemn possibility, that we might lose the joy of our Salvation. This then is the purport of these vessels, because, we being what we are, and sin being what it is, it is possible, even though in an inadvertent way, to lose the joy of our Salvation and to have our Communion broken.
The Court Vessels, then, provide that basis for our unbroken communion and for its restoration, if and when the break takes place.
- We would ever remember the mercies
- Which encircled us all the year long,
- And thankfully show forth the praises
- Of Him Who’s our strength and our song.
How quickly time passes! The years roll on, and some are more outstanding than others. To us we enter an impressive year. The Silver Jubilee celebrations of the Sovereign are being arranged, and much effort is being made to make it a memorable year. We honour the Queen, as Peter enjoins us to do, but what stirs our hearts is the fact that in January, 25 years ago, the first number of this magazine was issued. Our beloved brother William Bunting was exercised about the need for it, and he was given help from God to continue it for fifteen years. Then the Lord, with unerring wisdom, saw his work was finished, and called his dear servant Home. Ours was the loss. We still miss him, but through the grace of our God the little paper has continued throughout the past decade, and the circulation has continued to increase. For this we give God the glory! What the future may hold we know not, but, remembering “the mercies which encircled us all the year long’’ we can trust our faithful God, as we wait to hear “THE SHOUT” now so near, ever remembering the Apostle’s words, “Be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” (1Cor. 15:58).
We thank all the beloved saints who have continued to remember us in their prayers. Do please continue this exercise. God has heard these prayers from the hearts of His saints in all of the five Continents of earth. “Pray again.”
We also gratefully acknowledge the great kindness of the many dear saints, who, in the assemblies, or individually extended to us their practical fellowship. For this we offer our sincere thanks in our Lord’s worthy Name.
Our Honorary Editor also deserves our heart-felt thanks for the wise and gracious help he has given us throughout the past year, which for him was a very busy one, as he ministered to the saints at home and in Canada and the United States.
Many readers have written their appreciation of the papers submitted by our various contributors. We heartily thank these writers for their “labour of love,” entailing many precious hours and patient searching of the Scriptures for the profit of all.
“What Sayest Thou of Him?” (JOHN 9:17)
- He is FAIRER than the Fairest … Psa. 45:2
- He is DEARER than the Dearest … Eph. 1:6
- He is NEARER than the Nearest … Matt. 28:20
- He is HUMBLER than the Humblest … Matt. 11:29
- He is PURER than the Purest … 1Peter 1:19; 2:22
- He is RICHER than the Richest … Eph.1:7, 18
- He is HOLIER than the Holiest … Acts. 4:27
- He is MIGHTIER than the Mightiest … Rom. 8:37
- He is GREATER than the Greatest … Luke 1:32
- He is SWEETER than the Sweetest … S. of Sol. 5:16
- He is GENTLER than the Gentlest … 2Cor. 10:1
- He is HIGHER than the Highest … Eccles. 5:8
- Can you say: “He is MY Saviour” … Luke 1:47
- —STEWART LAVERY, Lisnagarvey
- Thou … forgettest the Lord thy Maker … and hast feared continually every day because of the fury of the oppressor … and where is the fury of the oppressor? Isaiah 51:12, 13.
- Causes for alarm are plentiful, it is true. The future at times looks dark, foreboding, unpredictable. “The fury of the oppressor,” —how real its threat often seems. BUT GOD!—have we forgotten HIM? Is He not to be trusted to deal with every threat? He is! —and yet how we can sometimes cower before threats which NEVER MATERIALIZE!
- —F. W. Schwartz
- Some of your hurts have been cured
- And the sharpest you still have survived,
- But what torments of grief you endured
- From evils which never arrived!